Updated March 12: Looking at School Start and End times
Thanks again, blog commenters, for all of your feedback. On March 11, I emailed staff and families an update on our next steps in this process and shared some of the most popular themes on this blog and in our survey. I won’t be responding directly to each and every blog comment, but I wanted to reiterate a few thoughts.
There are a few driving factors in this proposal. One is that the American Pediatric Association, representing children’s doctors around the country, have asked us to do so. They released a new report this year directly requesting that school districts change start times for middle and high school to no earlier than 8:30 am. They say adolescents’ bodies are not fully functioning that early, regardless of how much sleep they have had. They say a later start time will have an impact on student achievement, lower student driving accidents, decrease obesity and increase health. While some may argue these points, that is what the medical profession is asking of us.
The second reason is that the state of Washington is increasing the graduation requirements for students, starting with this year’s eighth graders (graduates of 2019). They will need to get 24 credits to graduate. With our current six-period day, students can get 24 credits if they make no mistakes – there is no room for error). Other districts have 7-period days or even 8-period days, allowing students to get 28 to 32 credits. Other districts also have longer school days; we are one of the shortest. The last part of this is many middle and high school students cannot fit in the classes they want. They have to waive physical education (PE) for example in middle or high school. Some students have the opportunity to take a zero hour class at ~6:30 am, but not everyone because we don’t provide bus transportation at that hour. We are trying to find a way to extend the day and give more opportunities for students to take courses that they are passionate about.
The 7:45 am elementary start time idea is not ideal…that is why we are asking for feedback. For some families it is too early, while for many others, the current 8:30 am start time is too late. They have to drop their kids off at childcare as early as 6:30 am.
As you can see this is a complex issue with many different viewpoints. Thanks again for your thoughtful feedback and for taking the time to share your input. I very much appreciate it. Please continue to comment on this blog – I get a notice every time someone posts a comment, so I do read all of your feedback.
And as much as I enjoy the digital dialogue, I may be reaching out to some of you who have commented on the blog to further discuss our proposal and next steps face-to-face.
I wanted to share some ideas and get your thoughts. In an effort to provide more opportunities for students to “discover and develop a passion” as called out in the Vision Statement of The Bellingham Promise, and to support more sleep for our adolescents, as called for by the American Pediatrics Association and others, we have been studying how we can improve our school schedules and school start and end times.
We’re aiming for implementation in the 2016-17 school year (next year will remain the same).
We want to start high school later in the morning. Many studies (like this one and this one) show that teenage brains benefit from more sleep. (I know. We ALL need more sleep, but there’s a lot of compelling research about teenagers in particular.)
I recently met with our Student Advisory Council, which includes student representatives from all of our high schools, and they shared thoughtful pros and cons to starting high school at 8:15 am.
We are also considering extending the high school and middle school day by up to 30 minutes. This would allow more time for increased course offerings, including visual and performing arts, world language and STEM related courses. Thirty more minutes may not seem like a lot, but it adds up to 90 more hours per year for our kids!
If we really want students to develop a passion, we need to give them an opportunity to learn and explore more subjects and disciplines. We consistently hear from students that their schedules are too tight and that they can’t take all the classes they want.
As you can probably imagine, this isn’t a “small potatoes” idea. It will take a significant, districtwide effort. It will have implications for ALL levels (including elementary, which, based on our current thinking, could start at 7:45 a.m.), transportation, staffing, budget – you name it. That’s why we’re aiming for August 2016.
I’d love to hear what you think. Don’t forget you can take this survey, too, through March 9.